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Act fast - save lives
by Simon Jinks

The dreaded shout "Man Overboard" sets hearts racing. With a life depending on you, you must stay calm and take one step at a time, says Simon Jinks

Buskets and fenders:tied together, these two seemingly harmless pieces of gear cause so much trepidation among sailors that it's hard to imagine how paralysing a real man overboard situation could be. Every Coastal Skipper candidate has felt that stomach-gnawing tension when the bucket hits the water and you khow it is up to you to pick it up. When it's for real, it is much worse.

On board it's easy for panic to break out. Everyone's trying to help or shouting commands. But you have to take control of the crew and act quickly. It's time to prioritise your actions. Initially, the person in the water needs three things:

- to be seen

- bo be kept afloat

- to be picked up

As skipper, you need to cater for these needs while ensuring that nobody else on board dets injured in the process. The person in the water will be fully occupied staying afloat and minimising the amount of water he swallows, so it's up to you to appoint someone to watch him. The spotter's responsibility is to point towards the MOB (Man Over Board) at all times and make sure he informs the helmsman if there is a risk of losing sight of the MOB. In bad visibility or at night, the MOB button on the GPS will give you a place to start the search, as would a danbuoy or lifebuoy light.

Next, organise the crew: a MOB is a shocking experience and the adrenalin will be pumping. Giving people jobs to do concentrates the mind and avoids panic.

Get back to the MOB and trow him some buoyancy - preferably a lifebuoy, otherwise a cockpit cushion, fender, amything that floats. This needs to be done quicly. in full foul weather gear and wellies, I last about four minutes in the water without a lifejacket: you sink quite quickly once the trapped air has com out of your cuffs. I khow - I've tried it.If the buoyancy aid is thrown before the boat is turned round then the MOB may ont be able to get to it. The boat must be close to the casualty.

There is no one "right method" of picking up a MOB. Most training organisations teach you to sail back to a bucket and fender. This is good to practise as a sailing exercise to sharpen up your boat control, but would you really sail back to a shipmate in the water? Probably not. A man overboard is a Mayday and DSC (Digital Selectice Calling) alert. The probability is that the person will need urgent nedical attention and the Coastguard's a lot happier coming out and finding that all's well rather than spending all night looking for a body in the water.

When do you send the Mayday? This will depend on curcumstances. If you're fully crewed, then do it straight away. If you're short-handed then maybe getting buoyancy to the MOB or securing him to the boat should be your first priority. But don't leave it too long. A helicopter can search a lot more water than a yacht and can pick people out of the water more easily than the crew can.

Getting back to the MOB

The priority is to keep the MOB in sight. First, put the helm over and sheet in the mainsail. If this is done quickly the yacht should stop within a couple of boat lengths. The boat will also go hove-to, which will give you time to get the lifebuoys ready. Motor back to the MOB and throw him a lifebuoy. At this point it's worth getting the headsail down to give better monoeuvrability. Then call for assistance, because the casualty will probably need it even if you go get him out unaided. Motor downwind, then turn and approach int the wind, which will give you the safest speed to get back to him. It's better to use a positive approach to keep steerage way on than to approach too slowly and let the bow get blown. A pickup on the leeward side tends to work better as the yacht will drift onto the casualty. The lee side is also lower,which makes it easier to get the person back on board.

At night, when you initially stop the boat by heaving-to, you may have lost sight of the MOB. If he has a personal strobe which is highly visible then carry on as before. If not, mark the area with a danbuoy light and hit the MOB button on the GPS. At least then you'll have a place to start the search.

Get the boat ready first this time, so send a Mayday, get the spotlight, drop the head sail, and start the engine. Ropes and props don't mix. check for lines in the water before putting the engine in gear: otherwise let's hope you're good at boathandling under sail. In some types of bats and sea conditions the manoeuvre may need to be done under sail - for example, a yacht with a small engine in a big sea, when the sails are needed to claw back through the seas.

With so much to remember, the very time you do not want to learn about this is when doing it for real. Knowing how ans when to use safety equipment and what to do in the event of a person falling overboard id best learnt before you set out from port. find out how long it takes to throw over the danbuoy and horseshoe. How would you get a crew back on board? Try lying in the dinghy and telling the crew to try to get you out. It's a lot harder than you think, expecially with an unconscious person. Immerse your hands in cold water for ten minutes and see how much strength you lose. Could you really hold on to a thin throwing line.

All boats are deffernt and just becuse a method works on one boat it may not on another. Some modern designs need constat tweaking to sit hove-to. A crash tack may work well on one boat but could bring the rig down around your ears on another. If you've prctised MOB recovery with a full crew, try doing it single-handed to see which method works for you.

Points to remember:

- keep a constant watch on the casualty in the water

- Danbuoys or lifebuoy lights can give a derection of travel for your return.

- Get back to them.Organise the crew,tell them you're turning around, make sure everyone's in a safe position for tacking.

- Buoyancy. get close enough to give the person a buoyancy aid.

- Sails. Furling the jub will make it easier to get back and keep the crew safe.

- Engine. Check for lines in the water, start the engine and motor back.

- VHF. Call for help when practicable.

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